Mohalla Samiti in Bhopal proves how unity is strength!

Mohalla Samiti in Bhopal proves how unity is strength!
WaterAid India/ Ishita Rampal

A group of enthusiastic individuals from the slums of Bhopal stepped forward to reason a relocation proposal while protecting their livelihood and building on basic amenities in their slums. Here’s how…

Shanti Nagar slum community sits in the heart of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, over 700 residents of the slum have been living here for the last three decades. While the men in the community primarily work as vegetable and fruit vendors, the women work as domestic help in nearby residential areas.

The entrance of Shanti Nagar slum colony.
The entrance of Shanti Nagar slum colony
WaterAid India/ Ishita Rampal

An eminent aspect of Shanti Nagar was the existence of Mohalla Samiti, a group of individuals from the slum appointed to work towards planning and development of the slum. Popularly known as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the local governing bodies, the Mohalla Samiti in Shanti Nagar came into being in the year 2011, after the Rajya Sabha passed the rule in 2009.

Over the years, the slum has witnessed some radical developments, although not as established as the elite sections of the society, but good enough for the slum dwellers to lead a comfortable life. Clean drinking water and decent toilets are no more a far-fetched dream for the residents of Shanti Nagar. The slum is open defecation free (ODF) and has household water supply connection from the Bhopal Municipality Cooperation (BMC).

A resident of Shanti Nagar slum colony outside her house.
A resident of Shanti Nagar slum colony outside her house
WaterAid India/ Ishita Rampal

Community representatives led by Mohalla Samiti made enormous efforts to advocate for access to these services.

While the slum was declared ODF in 2007, piped water was still an issue. The Mohalla Samiti identified the problem and began work. Regular meetings, discussions and repeated efforts, finally resulted in piped water connection at each home,” shared Farukh Azam, the president of Mohalla Samiti, Shanti Nagar.

But little did the community know that despite all the developments and successes, they would be asked to relocate to an unknown area, about 15kms away from their present location.

Schools, parks, anganwadis, and most of all the job of the residents is based here in the close vicinity of the slum,” shared Kausar Bano, the vice president of Mohalla Samiti, Shanti Nagar. “We live here legally, paying electricity and water bills, and we have all our identity proof linked to this address. Do you think it is easy to change all those details?” questions Kausar.

Similarly, two other WaterAid’s intervention areas, Arjun Nagar and Jheel Nagar in Bhopal were also asked to relocate. Although the new multi-story building had flats for the residents, it lacked basic accessibility for the elderly and differently abled.

Geeta, a resident and member of Mohall Samiti, at her shop.
Geeta, a resident and member of Mohall Samiti, at her shop
WaterAid India/ Ishita Rampal

Also, the salary of these slum residents is very basic. Once they moved to the new location, their expenses would increase in terms of commuting to work, changing schools for children, as well as loan for the new house,” shared Jitendra Pramar, Program Coordinator from Aarambh, WaterAid India’s partner.

Keeping in view the various aspects that limited the residents to relocate, the Mohalla Samiti took up the issue with BMC, elected representative, and local MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly). Seeing a slow response, they decided to take up these issues collectively and sought support from Maha Mohalla Samiti, an informal federation of 30 Mohalla Samitis, to raise issues of basic services of urban poor at a higher level.

Mohalla Samiti members interacting with Chairman of BMC Council.
Mohalla Samiti members interacting with Chairman of BMC Council
WaterAid India

Maha Mohalla Samiti took up this case and first mobilised the Ward Councillor, local MLA and former Chief Minister (CM) of Madhya Pradesh, Babu Lal Gaur. With such pressure from the citizens and understanding the genuineness of the issue, the former CM wrote a letter to BMC to take proper action on their request. To reinforce, the Maha Mohalla Samiti also approached the Commissioner and Mayor of BMC.

We already have a safe home, where we have been living since the last three decades. There is a certain comfort level here. Why move us, whereas there are hundreds of people still living on the streets and footpaths in the city,” remarked Farukh Azam.

With a year of repeated efforts, the Mayor finally announced that these slums will not be relocated but upgraded and resettled there itself.

It is quite satisfying to see how these committees with little facilitation support and continuous capacity building, have reached a stage where they take up such sensitive issues all by themselves,” claimed Chanchal Kumar, Programme Coordinator, WaterAid India.

It surely is remarkable to note how the Mohalla Samiti was able to advocate and reinforce the fact that relocating will not only create problems for the slum dwellers based on livelihood, but also waste the resources of BMC that were spent on constructing toilets, providing household tap connections, and segregated waste management, amongst other aspects.